Please excuse the humblebrag/linkbait headline that’s gotten you here. Not bad huh? Keep reading though, because I have ulterior motives other than patting myself on the back. 

Let’s rewind to last week.

I’d had this “I never finish anyth” postcard up on my wall for a while, and it must have sunk in, because I woke up with a rare urge to write, and out flowed an article about finishing things.

The headline seemed pretty catchy (hat tip to the artist Brad Rose for that) so I decided to post it to Hacker News.

Whilst there are ill-advised ways to game the system, the best way to get to the top of the Hacker News pile is simply to write good, honest content. Just as it is with most writing; I’ve found that trying to tell stories, rather than simply writing ‘articles’, usually yields the best results. Whilst that might sound pretty obvious, it took me a while to realise it.

I’ve had pretty mixed results with posting links to Hacker News in the past, with my story about cycling 100 miles to meet my first customer being the only article to get real traction. 

So as I watched my latest submission sliding down the “New” page, I wasn’t holding out much hope. But then it picked up an upvote or two, and then a few more, and suddenly boom, there it was on the front page. 

At this point all pretensions of ignoring vanity metrics went out the window and I logged into Google Analytics for a live view of the traffic. If you’ve done this before for a site launch you’ll know the buzz you get as the little bars march across the screen and the visitor count jumps up and down…

Pretty exciting stuff, given that my average number of visitors for a single day is currently around 300 people.

It didn’t stop there, because the next day “I never finish anyth” was still hovering around the number 10 spot of Hacker News, and clocking up a decent number of hits via Reddit as well.

Total views for the first day in the life of the article: 25,000.

Not bad at all, considering that it usually takes me around six months to clock up that many page views.

Here comes the but…

People matter more than metrics

Unless you’re content farming or a Googlebot, page views don’t matter. Likes don’t matter. Tweets don’t matter. They’re just indicators that you’re on the right track. 

What matters is helping people. Adding real value. Inspiring people to do stuff.

In the end, I got more satisfaction from another metric (with a count of 1) than I did from all those thousands of page views.

Searching through my referral stats on Monday I found a chunk of traffic coming from a blog post somewhere. It turns out that a guy called Jonathan been inspired to launch the API he’d been working on:

After reading 'I never finish anyth' I felt inspired to go back to what I'd started partway through last year and finish it. I always intended it to be a quick project but never got around to finishing it.

Which in a nutshell, is why I write.

Because there’s a chance that somewhere down the line, the words that come out of me (however painful a process it might be) could change someone else’s day for the better.

And that feels like magic to me.

If there’s a moral to this story, it might look a little like this:

Thinking about writing?

Stop thinking about it and give it a shot.

Write little and often.

Write about what you know.

Write more honestly than you feel comfortable with.

You might be surprised by what happens...

Posted to meta in 2014.

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